Native Mississippi trees and shrubs with fall color to plant in your landscape

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, November 11, 2020

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

Last weekend during our botany field walk at the Crosby Arboretum, participants enjoyed learning about the native trees and shrubs that are beginning to glow with fall color. They also learned that fall color can occur in some surprising places, as we noticed that poison ivy was one of the species decked out in glorious hues of orange and yellow.

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Other trees you might not look twice at in spring or summer are quite beautiful now, such as the scarlet sumac along the path approaching the entrance to the Pinecote Pavilion. Stand on the edge of the Pavilion to see rusty gold cloaks on the bald cypress trees across the pond. At the Cypress Head overlook, both pond and bald cypress occur, underplanted with Southern blue flag iris that will be sporting purple blooms in spring.

Black gum trees are found throughout the Arboretum, and currently dressed in burgundy and red fall. This tree is characterized by branches that typically extend at ninety-degree angles from the trunk and have a weeping habit. Black gum grows in full sun or part shade and makes a great shade or specimen tree in the home landscape.

Sweetgum is a large deciduous tree with attractive star-shaped leaves. Several grow along the visitor center deck. The tree grows on both moist and dry sites. It is known for its brilliant purple-red fall color and spiny ball-shaped fruits that are often a surprise to barefoot strollers in a lawn, however, properly sited it will make a handsome shade tree and is tolerant of urban situations.

Lacy Elliot’s blueberry lines our pathways. In the areas receiving ample sunlight, its small leaves have turned bright scarlet and burgundy. What a stunning sight the leaves are against the delicate green twigs!Its attractive scarlet red makes it easy to spot from your car window.

Across from our Pollinator Garden you’ll find one of the best trees for fall color, the swamp chestnut oak. It doesn’t require a swamp to be happy, but will perform well in “regular” soils. The tree has attractive shaggy bark and exquisitely shaped leaves (great for T-shirt imprints!). When we have a particularly chilly fall, the leaves turn a breathtakingly beautiful burgundy.

Witch hazel’s yellow strap-like flowers offer an unexpected show when least expected. Life requires a bit of surprise and delight, and that is guaranteed to those who encounter this small tree in bloom. A specimen grows along the path between the visitor center and the Slough Exhibit. As the tree’s late fall bloom can quickly come and go, keep your eyes peeled for its show of fleeting beauty. Our native witch hazel is related to the popular purple-leaved Chinese witch hazel popular in gardens that is known as Loropetalum.

If you don’t know a certain tree, pick a specimen and visit the Arboretum to ask for an ID, or download the MSU Extension publication No. 0146, “Know your Trees” at Another excellent resource is the “Mississippi Trees” book, available both as a PDF and app from the Mississippi Forestry Commission at

On Saturday, November 21, from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., join certified yoga instructor James Sones in the beautiful natural setting of Pinecote Pavilion for a gentle yoga class and short meditation sitting. Class size is limited to 15. Please bring your yoga mat and arrive 10 minutes early. Reservations are requested. Members free, non-members $5.

That same afternoon, a children’s craft workshop, “Winter Wildlife Birdhouses & Feeders” will be held from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Prepare your garden for winter wildlife. Build and paint a bird house from a kit and craft bird feeders from pinecones, peanut butter and birdseed in this workshop led by Sherri Lowe. Limited to 12 persons. Registration is required. As children must be accompanied by an adult, there is no minimum age requirement. Cost, $7 for members’ children; $10 for non-members’ children. Adult members, free; non-member adults pay regular site admission. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for Arboretum programs.

The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday and located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. Exit gates are closed at 4:30 p.m. The business office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.